TV Legend STEPHEN J. CANNELL On the Big-Screen A-TEAM

TV Legend Talks Big-Screen A-TEAM

For series creator Stephen J. Cannell, there's just something special about The A-Team.

"I put over 42 shows on the air in my career, and I never had one like that one," Cannell told Newsarama. "I was surprised that it took as long as it did to turn it into a movie."

With the recent release of a trailer for the movie version of The A-Team , fans are abuzz with excitement for the modernization of the '80s television show, which stars Liam Neeson (Batman Begins), Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), Sharlto Copley (District 9), Jessica Biel (Blade: Trinity) and UFC champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the role once played by Mr. T.

Launched in 1983, The A-Team featured four Vietnam vets "framed for a crime they didn't commit, who helped those in need with their military-developed talents. The show was a huge hit, featuring a group of violent-but-benevolent characters: George Peppard as the cigar-chewing leader "Hannibal;" Dirk Benedict as the ladies man, "Face;" Dwight Schultz as the insane pilot, "Mad Murdock;" and Mr. T, who became a household name playing the brute-with-a-heart nicknamed "B.A." ("Bad Attitude").

"I think we cast the show really right with the four guys that we had in it," Cannell said of the action-adventure series he co-created with Frank Lupo. "I just think there was something that was kind of iconic about it that captured the moment. There was humor and great stunts, some great action. It was just a very different kind of show."

Anyone who watched television during the '80s will know Cannell as the man typing and throwing up a page of copy during his production logo, which viewers saw at the end of the era's most popular shows, including The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street and The Greatest American Hero.

But modern TV viewers probably know Cannell from his appearances on Castle, where he plays himself, doling out advice during poker games with Nathan Fillion's title character.

"Nathan's such a good guy and I don't know whether you saw the DVD extra we did, but he came over to my house and we shot a whole day over here," Cannell said. "They called it a write-along, kind of like a ride-along – but a write-along. It was like he was trying to be a writer and we just did improvs all day long where I was teaching him how to be a writer. It was pretty funny."

Besides his role on Castle and his career as a novelist, Cannell continues to be active in Hollywood, and is actually producing the film version of The A-Team. The writer said he's been pleased at how loyal the movie has stayed to the original series he helped create.

"They are definitely being true to our characters," Cannell said of the movie, which is set to be released on June 11th. "Liam [Neeson] is playing [Hannibal] very much like George played him. 'Rampage' Jackson looks like T. He's got the Mohawk, and the feather earrings, and the chains, and everything.

"Bradley Cooper, as 'Face,' is this great-looking guy with charm who gets all the girls. It's really the same," Cannell said. "And Sharlto Copley, who's playing Murdock, our helicopter pilot who was crazy -- he's playing him just as loony as a fruit fly."

Cannell admitted that the film updates the characters and the series concept somewhat. (For example, the characters are veterans of Iraq instead of Vietnam.) But all the important iconic taglines are still there, he said, and the trailer even revealed Neeson saying a classic line from the TV show: "I love it when a plan comes together."

"I think we all knew we wanted Hannibal to say that," Cannell said with a laugh. "Liam's got the cigar and it's all there. You won't feel like you're not watching the A-Team."

While Cannell may think there's something special about The A-Team, even he recognizes that the movie is part of a not-so-unique trend in Hollywood to remake TV shows from the '80s into films, including Charlie's Angels, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Miami Vice. While critics chastise the film industry for regurgitating old ideas, Cannell thinks it's more about bringing the audience something they already understand and want to see again.

"If they were big enough shows so that they stuck in the national conscience, then they're pre-sold titles. If you say 'Star Trek,' we know what we're going to get," he said. "There's a want-to-see in the minds of the viewers, and I think that one of the responsibilities of the filmmaker is not to just take the title and do something completely on your own. You really need to take that tile and deliver basically on the anticipation that the audience has for that title. And I think we've been doing that on The A-Team."


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